Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Knowledge and Names
By Edward Stillingfleet (1635–1699)
From Origines Sacræ

IF we take a view of man’s knowledge as it respects his fellow creatures, we shall find these were so fully known to him on his first creation, that he needed not to go to school to the wide world to gather up his conceptions of them. For the right exercise of that dominion which he was instated in over the inferior world doth imply a particular knowledge of the nature, being, and properties of those things which he was to make use of, without which he could not have improved them for their peculiar ends. And from this knowledge did proceed the giving the creatures those proper and peculiar names which were expressive of their several natures. For as Plato tells us, the imposition of names on things belongs not to every one, but only to him that hath a full prospect into their several natures. For it is most agreeable to reason, that names should carry in them a suitableness to the things they express; for words being for no other end but to express our conceptions of things, and our conceptions being but, as the same philosopher speaks, “the resemblances and representations of the things,” it must needs follow, that where there was a true knowledge, the conceptions must agree with the things; and words being to express our conceptions, none are so fit to do it, as those which are expressive of the several natures of the things they are used to represent. For otherwise all the use of words is a mere vocabulary to the understanding, and an index to memory, and of no further use in the pursuit of knowledge, than to let us know what words men are agreed to call things by. But something further seems to be intended in their first imposition, whence the Jews call it, as Mercer tells us, a separation and distinction of the several kinds of things; and Kircher thus paraphraseth the words of Moses: “And whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof, i.e.,” saith he, Fuerunt illis vera et germana nomina et rerum naturis propria accommodata. 1 But however this be, we have this further evidence of that height of knowledge which must be supposed in the first man, that as he was the first in his kind, so he was to be the standard and measure of all that followed, and therefore could not want anything of the due perfections of human nature. And as the shekel of the sanctuary was, if not double to others (as men ordinarily mistake), yet of a full and exact weight, because it was to be the standard of all other weight (which was the cause of its being kept in the temple), so if the first man had not double the proportion and measure of knowledge which his posterity hath, if it was not running over in regard of abundance, yet it must be pressed down and shaken together in regard of weight; else he would be a very unfit standard for us to judge by, concerning the due and suitable perfections of human nature.
Note 1. Fuerunt illis vera et germana, etc.  They had names true and fitting, justly suited to the natures of the things. [back]

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